Jurisprudence, University of Miami
School of Law
II. Where does one find the Law?
2. Social Contracts
Plato, The Crito
This dialog takes place after the Apology, which details the trial and conviction (by vote of the
citizens of Athens assembled) of Socrates for charges of heresy and, perhaps, general rabble-rousing. A subsequent and final dialog details how Socrates drank the poisoned hemlock and
While reading the Crito, it may be helpful to ask yourself:
- Given that Socrates has been condemned to die by majority vote, how does one explain his
view that, on the one hand the opinions of the many are of little weight when compared to that
of the wise and good; but on the other hand he should abide by the majority's judgment?
- Suppose Socrates were young. Would his arguments apply with the same force?
- One way to read the dialog is to see a turning point in Crito's initial concession: Crito
concedes that it is always wrong to do an evil thing whatever the provocation. As Socrates
this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any
considerable number of persons; and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed upon
this point have no common ground, and can only despise one another when they see how
widely they differ.. Assuming Socrates is correct about this, does the rest of
his argument have any application to the majority of us who do believe in doing a lesser evil
to forestall a greater one? And if not, why would Socrates make an argument that a wise
philosopher like him must know is inapplicable to most?
- We can read this text as a kind of direct philosophy, or we can read this while remembering
that this is a dialog. In the latter view, Socrates (a character in Plato's writing) is speaking to
Crito (another character of Plato's). Conceivably, Socrates is speaking for Crito's benefit --
and as is clear from the dialog, Crito is little more than a rich, bourgeois, foil for Socrates.
Could it be that Socrates is setting out a philosophy that he believes is the right one for the
Crito-like, i.e. those whose moral and philosophical judgment is not of the highest? If so, why
would Socrates choose to allow himself to remain in captivity?
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